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An Examination Of Technical Interests Motivating Women And Men Engineering Majors

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Undergraduate Retention Activities

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.169.1 - 10.169.8

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Paper Authors

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Karan Watson

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John Weese

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Technical Interests of Men & Women in Engineering by Watson & Weese Page 2

Looking at Table 1, the representation of women receiving Bachelor degrees in Engineering in the US in 2001 ranges from as high as 33.75% in Chemical Engineering, and as low as 13.21% in Mechanical Engineering. [7] (The range for Biomedical and Environmental Engineering will probably be even higher, but the national data was not available from this source.) In examining these data, it is easy to understand conclusions by Holdstock in 1998 when he stated: “Although for various reasons the ratio [of men to women] may change without social manipulation, for example the ratio for seven branches of engineering changed at a fairly constant rate from about 4 percent in 1980 to about 12 percent in 1994 [in the UK], it is possible that each change converges towards a limit, as may be the case for psychology, and if experience of the United States is a guide, these seven branches of engineering, as an average, may have a limit not much above the present value.”[4] In this conclusion, Holdstock was considering the Bachelor graduates in the fields of Aeronautical, Chemical, Civil, Electrical and Electronic, Mechanical, Production, and General Engineering between 1981 and 1993 in the UK. Holdstock goes on to state that he knows of no psychological discussions of why differences exist in the representation of women between different branches of engineering.

Table 1 Percent of Bachelor Degrees in Engineering Fields Awarded to Women [7] 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 2000 2001 Engineering 16.51% 17.28% 17.93% 18.40% 18.61% 20.52% 20.11% Aerospace 12.66% 12.99% 15.04% 15.66% 15.80% 18.78% 20.29% Chemical 29.86% 31.67% 32.36% 32.62% 32.67% 35.42% 33.75% Civil 18.71% 20.28% 20.11% 21.39% 22.36% 24.31% 22.81% Electrical 12.34% 12.34% 11.83% 12.28% 12.33% 13.30% 13.84% Industrial 29.37% 29.16% 29.43% 27.00% 25.58% 33.20% 32.06% Materials 21.70% 23.61% 22.21% 24.37% 23.34% 27.57% 28.28% Mechanical 11.39% 11.23% 11.96% 11.84% 12.24% 13.61% 13.21% Other 18.80% 19.03% 21.25% 21.14% 21.75% 25.62% 27.09%

The reasons for the persistence in gender segregation in some fields of study are complex and not well understood. This is because, while representation of women in a field is a snapshot of large numbers of people present in the field, the actual path to choosing a field of study is unique to each individual. Feingold examined the results of numerous studies on the differences in intellectual abilities between men and women and could draw the following conclusions [2]: 1. Men score higher than women on general intelligence tests, mechanical reasoning, and mental rotation. 2. Women score higher than men on language usage and perceptual speed. 3. No significant differences are found between men and women in abstract reasoning, arithmetic, memory span, spatial visualization, and verbal ability. Even the places where differences occur, little is gained in explaining the persistence of gender segregation in some fields. One viewpoint, derived from the works of Holland [5] and Gottfredson [3], combines the perception of field prestige and gender perception to understand the complexity of career choices. However, Dunnell and Bakken [1] found

Watson, K., & Weese, J. (2005, June), An Examination Of Technical Interests Motivating Women And Men Engineering Majors Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon.

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